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What We Learned from the Spurs loss to the Lakers

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A disappointing result on an encouraging night.

Los Angeles v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

I will go to my grave believing that the Spurs lost this game at the 5:40 mark of the 1st quarter when Jakob Poeltl got his 2nd foul. I will be bouncing my little granddaughter, Ophelia, on my knee and telling her, “O, if Jak doesn’t get that second foul early then I think we really had those boys in a corner that night.” In her youthful ignorance, she’ll probably say something like “GrandPaPa, don’t you think the fact the LaMarcus Aldridge was out that night had a bigger impact on the game? Plus weren’t the Lakers the best team in the league that year? Didn’t they have LeBron and Anthony Davis?” After which, I’ll just smile, pat her on the head, and write her out of the will.

See, what Ophelia and other NBA historians are forgetting about this extremely memorable regular season game is that, even though LaMarcus was out and even though the Lakers were heavily favored for a variety of reasons, the Spurs were right in this from get go. They were throwing punches and they weren’t backing down from the formidable challenge in front of them. They had a plan and they were executing it. Sure, the plan involved DeMar DeRozan checking Marc Gasol for long periods of time, but thats exactly the kind of crazy you had to be to survive in this league in 2020. They were flying around and pushing the pace and being way more physical than it seemed like they were capable of. Of course, the margin for error was pretty thin, but it was working and the Lakers were having to play catch-up.

The thing about that foul at the 5:40 mark is that it was so quiet. It was a butterfly flapping it’s wings and a 14 point loss happening a few hours later. Jakob got caught shading a little bit up top on a LeBron-Anthony Davis pick & roll which, I mean, who among us hasn’t flirted with a moment of indecision when faced with trying to figure out whether or not to help on one of the best players of all time or stay with your man who is also one of the best players of all time? Regardless, Jak spends half a sneeze too long up there and LeBron slips it down to AD and the wheels are in motion. A hand on the hip. A hand on the small of his back. A blown whistle. Game over.

Drew Eubanks is a good guy. I like him. If you just look at the box score he even had a pretty decent night. A couple points, five boards, and two extremely cool blocks that on any other night would earn him some sort of medal of distinction. Drew’s a nice player, but Drew logging heavy minutes on December 30th, 2020 against the defending NBA champs was not part of the plan. You could just tell he wasn’t in step with the flow the Spurs had established. At any given moment, he was too slow or too quick. He missed a layup here and a floater there and even, bless him, an extremely ambitious hook shot. The Spurs had a plan that came unraveled in a moment and they didn’t have a Plan B. For about five minutes everyone was scrambling and trying to pick up slack and get back in the rhythm of the game. They had to stop and take a breath while the Lakers just kept running.

This is the part where all the historians and my precocious granddaughter probably stopped paying attention altogether. The Lakers built out a 10 point lead during this run and that little bubble just sort of stayed right there and hung out the rest of the time. No matter how hard they tried, the Spurs just couldn’t manage to break it but, and here’s the thing, they tried really, really hard. They kept fighting. They never really let the game get away from them. Dejounte played out of his mind, DeMar kept doing his thing, and Patty Mills hit some huge shots. They forced 17 turnovers and they made the Lakers hit a ton of tough shots. Maybe they didn’t have a Plan B, but they spent the rest of the night trying like hell to prove the viability of Plan A.

The Spurs had a real shot to steal this one. Remember that part when Keldon flew past LeBron in the opening seconds and tried to rip the rim right off the backboard? That was a statement of intent. The Spurs weren’t here to be scared or intimidated. The Spurs were coming for you. With each passing game, this new core of players continues to show us why it’s going to be fun to watch them. They’re going to have nights like the New Orleans game where poor execution gets the best of them or tonight where they stumble while trying to climb a mountain, but they aren’t going to quit. They’re going to keep planning these heists and one of these days it’s going to work.

In the future, when people ask you when you knew the Spurs were going to be great again, feel free to tell them about the night they should’ve beat the Lakers. I know I will.

Takeaways

  • Alright, because I basically said Drew Eubanks lost the game up there, I would like to also say that I thought he did eventually settle into things and actually played pretty well after that initial stretch. Most of the time, I really like the part of the game where Drew comes in for like four or five minutes of energy against the opponent’s 2nd team and just sort of makes stuff happen. He’s huge and athletic and he works his butt off out there. He not an insignificant piece of what makes this team fun to watch, it’s just that, well, Anthony Davis is way better than him. Anyway, let’s watch him swat this LeBron layup a few times and regroup.
  • On his most recent podcast, ESPN’s Zach Lowe interrupted Chris Herring, who was talking about the Pelicans, to exclaim “THE SPURS ARE FUN!” I mention this mostly so you can go check it out for a nice adrenaline jolt of “we’re not crazy, this team actually is pretty fun”, but also because the two of them go on to talk about how DeMar was shooting threes now and how he’s gone through little phases like this before and it doesn’t really stick. It made me just a touch nervous because I know for a fact that I’ve been roped into those little phases before and I can feel myself doing it again this time. DeMar only took one three in this game. He made it though! I don’t know.
  • I continue to be impressed with how Dejounte Murray looks this year. He’s so aggressive and confident. It just looks like he belongs out there in every phase of the game. Would I like him to clean up the turnovers? Yes, yes I really would, but if he’s going to continue doing stuff like dropping 29 on the Lakers then I’m willing to forgive a lot of sins.
  • I don’t want to make a big deal out of Becky Hammon filling in for Popovich last night because, as far as historic moments go, this one felt pretty Business As Usual and that feels right. She’s never asked for special treatment, she’s never asked for fanfare, all she wants to do is get in there and coach to best of her abilities. That’s what she does and that’s exactly what she did last night. It brings me endless amounts of pride and joy to have the team I root for associated with her.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- Let’s start with the obvious, this fictional granddaughter you made up....Ophelia? What’s the story there?

- It makes sense to me that in the future, the name Ophelia will come back around to become very stylish. I fully expect my family to be cutting edge trendsetters so, yea, I think my basketball obsessed grandchild will very likely be named something like Ophelia

- Ok, you also seem to be operating under the assumption that, many decades from now, people will still be discussing a random NBA regular season game of very little consequence.

- Well, see, it’s less that I think they will be discussing it and more that I will be continuing to bring it up to them to the point where eventually it gets logged in the system as a very significant game within the history of the sport. This is a modest goal but, hey, we all need something to look forward to, right?

- Ok one more thing, you promised the readers updates on Marco’s Italian exploits?

- So glad you asked. He logged his first minutes of the season a few days ago in a loss to Olimpia Milano (who are coached by Ettore Messina by the way). He score 9 points and turned the ball over the first time he touched it. Nature is healing.